Teams have become an increasingly ubiquitous part of complex, modern organizations. One survey of 962 HR leaders found that fifty-four percent of respondents spent up to 30% of their day in team settings (Blanchard 2012). No longer are individual employees solely appraised in terms of their individual usefulness: their ability to function as part of a team is essential. "Organizations are more networked, more flexible, and more dynamic than ever before. Outsourcing, globalization, and competitive pressures are forcing organizations to rely more on work teams comprised of not only of employees, as well as outside experts or counterparts from allied organizations" (Blanchard 2012). Teams may composed of a combination of external or internal employees and they are invariably diverse and multifaceted.
Although every team is different, certain genetic rubrics have been developed to assess how teams function, the most famous of which is Bruce Tuckman's model of 'forming, storming, norming, and performing' (Chapman 20009). Tuckman's model outlines how teams gradually achieve independence. "Tuckman's model explains that as the team develops maturity and ability, relationships establish, and the leader changes leadership style. Beginning with a directing style, moving through coaching, then participating, finishing delegating and almost detached. At this point the team may produce a successor leader and the previous leader can move on to develop a new team" (Chapman 2009). This process begins with the tentative forming stage when the team is still establishing a division of roles and is dependent upon a leader for guidance; the storming stage when the roles are renegotiated (often in a 'stormy' fashion) and the leader must broach differences; the 'norming' stage when roles are established and the team begins to gel as a unit, and finally the performing stage where minimal intervention is needed by the leader for the team to function and the team is able to be effective in realizing its objectives (Chapman 2009).
Ensuring team effectiveness throughout the lifecycle
When team-based leadership is deployed by an organization, teams can make substantial contributions to a business' 'bottom line' by creating synergistic connections between different people and ideas. "The effective implementation of teams can provide a powerful competitive advantage. Organizations worldwide are using teams as a business strategy to increase quality and customer service, improve productivity, and decrease costs. In addition, these organizations are also reporting improved morale as employees realize opportunities to participate in decision making, learn different job skills, take on new responsibilities, and increase their value to the organization and in the marketplace" (Kricher 2013:1). For example, a multinational company that creates work teams composed of diverse employees can more effectively tailor its products and marketing to the different nations where it has a presence. Diversity can also be enhanced through combining different types of expertise and job functions: a team composed of members of the IT staff and advertising staff can generate unexpected and innovative ideas about using social media by pooling their diverse competencies.
However, the diversity of teams can also generate friction. Team members must have effective communication skills to be able to broach differences of culture and personal differences. This can be overcome with a commitment to the organization's ideas and a clear sense of goals. "In order for teams to succeed, the organization's structure and people must be oriented to support core business processes" and this requires teams' multiple skill sets to compliment the ultimate purpose of the team (Kricher 2013:1). Problems arise when there may be a profound gap in the culture of an employee whose discipline is grounded in the 'soft' work of HR vs. The 'hard' or data-driven aspects of finance. Furthermore, "when roles and responsibilities of team members and managers are unclear, confusion and discouragement often follow" and if the team members cannot integrate their skill sets or broach the differences between their different disciplines, combined with personality conflicts this can ultimately create factionalism and roadblocks (Kricher 2013:2).
Using icebreaking activities during the 'forming' phase breaks down initial barriers and helps teams become more self-reflective about their unique communication styles and personal prejudices. Having teams take personality assessments and then discuss the results helps team better understand one another's strengths and differences. A diversity management program that orients employees and continues to educate…